Exclusive Q&A: Dr. Larry Einhorn on Lance Armstrong

Just days after Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles due to a doping scandal, the Indianapolis oncologist who cured his cancer defends the cyclist’s legacy.

On October 22, cycling’s governing body formally stripped Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles due to alleged involvement in a doping scandal, and on November 1, the International Olympic Committee opened an investigation into the cyclist’s bronze-medal-winning performance in 2000.
Many fans of the inspirational athlete and philanthropist have mourned his downfall. But one fan, Indianapolis physician Lawrence Einhorn, has more at stake. A world-renowned oncologist at the IU School of Medicine, Einhorn was Armstrong’s doctor beginning in 1996, treating—and curing him of—his testicular cancer, before Armstrong went on to win the Tour de France every year from 1999 to 2005. Even Einhorn’s title—Lance Armstrong Foundation Professor of Oncology—links him to the fallen cyclist.
In an exclusive interview, Einhorn explains why he still supports the work of his friend and former patient.
Having invested so much in Lance Armstrong’s career, what do you think about the news?
I took care of him as an oncologist 15 years ago, so it probably isn’t correct to say I invested in his career. I invested in his health and his getting well, and allowed him to return to the sport that he loved, and to compete at a world-class level.
I think the most important thing he did—and I always told him this over the years—is that his legacy was not going to be as a professional athlete. His legacy was going to be what he’s done through the Lance Armstrong Foundation. He’s still a hero to millions of cancer patients who have benefited so much by his generosity of time, money, and effort. The foundation is his true legacy. I really can’t comment on whether the allegations are true. Certainly, with all the things that are in the newspaper—I don’t know any more about this than you do—but just reading the newspaper, it seems pretty damning. But again, I sort of think that misses the point as to who he is and what he’s been able to accomplish.
Do you hold out hope that the reports are false?
I have no way of knowing.
But personally, do you hope that the allegations are not true?
Well, I think that most people involved with the cancer community—either as physician or patient—hope that they are not true, and even more so, hope that this doesn’t affect donations that go to the foundation, which does so much good. But it’s been awhile since he was a professional cyclist. It’s a matter of saving someone’s sports reputation who will continue to live and continue to be revered by many members of the cancer community.
Have you spoken with Lance recently?
No, I have not. I think the last time I saw him was when he had his 40th birthday party [in September 2011].
Will you continue your work with the Lance Armstrong Foundation?
I am what is called a Lance Armstrong Professor of Medicine, and they support my research. I used to be on the Lance Armstrong Foundation board during the first couple years of its inception, but to tell you the truth, I’ve just been too busy to continue that. It’s probably been about seven years since I was a member of the board.
Do you expect to keep your title?
Absolutely. And I’m proud to be a professor from the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
So you don’t have any mixed feelings about having his name attached to your title?
None whatsoever. Living in Indianapolis—to be honest, I’m not a cycling fan—I have season tickets for the Colts and season tickets to IU football and basketball. I know very little about cycling. But you look at sports figures in Indianapolis, and you have had some wonderful people with the Colts, with Gary Brackett, Jeff Saturday, Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne. And then you have some of the troublemakers we have had with the Indiana Pacers. You look at who does more for the community as a whole and the world at large—someone who beats up their wife, or is out clubbing at 3 o’clock in the morning, gets into fights, and never spends a dollar for any type of charitable organization, or someone like Lance, who has devoted his post-athletic career to helping cancer patients worldwide.
>> MORE: Dr. Larry Einhorn was No. XLII in the February 2012 issue‘s XLVI Super Reasons to Love Indy.
Photo by Tony Valainis